Monday, March 28, 2011

Like Dandelion Dust -- wishes and their impact on others

Director: Jon Gunn, 2010. (PG-13)

This compelling drama centers on two families, the Porters and the Campbells, who come from distinctly opposite sides of the tracks. This is made clear from the opening scenes. When we see Jack Campbell (Cole Hauser) sailing off the Florida coast with his little boy Joey (Maxwell Perry Cotton), while his wife Molly (Kate Levering) waits in their million-dollar mansion, they represent the "haves", with luxury and money. Wendy (Mira Sorvino) and Rip (Barry Pepper), on the other hand, live in a beater home in the low-rent district of Ohio. They are the "have nots," blue collar workers at best. But their lives intersect in Joey,

In the movie's only flashback, we see Rip arrested seven years earlier for beating up Wendy. Alcohol and abuse are his twin demons. For his punishment, he was sent away for a seven-year stretch. Unbeknownst to him, Wendy was pregnant and chose to have the baby, and then give him up for adoption. To legalize the transaction, she had Rip's signature forged, knowing that Rip would never give away his son. The Campbells were the fortunate adoptive parents.

When Rip is released from prison, he is a changed man, and returns to Wendy, ready for a new start in life and for a family. But when he finds out from her that he already is a father, together they are determined to find the boy and reclaim him. Ohio law supports this return of the boy to his parents, since the father's signature was fraudulent. This premise sets up the film. The Campbells must give up Joey, who only knows them as his parents, but are not prepared to do so. The Porters want to meet and keep Joey, though they may not be ready for parenthood. Which set of parents will be better for the boy? The rich Campbells, or the poor Porters?

Based on the novel by best-selling Christian author Karen Kingsbury, Like Dandelion Dust offers a realistic portrayal of two families. Though it veers into melodrama once or twice, it refuses to present a clear-cut hero. Both families have something to offer and both families have much to lose. The film exposes the humanity in the characters, leaving us struggling to choose who to cheer for.

When Jack realizes his lawyer cannot help and his senator refuses to do anything, he determines to take matters into his own hands. Visiting Ohio, he confronts Rip at his workplace. As a rich man, he thinks it is all about money. Offering Rip half a million dollars to "buy back" his son, he is surprised when his offer is refused. Joey was not for sale. The law declared he belonged with his birth parents and they were not going to commercialize their blessing.

Here is one theme: money. And the message is reinforced: money can't buy love. Too often, those blessed with financial resources think they can buy anything they want: from cars to homes, from toys to boys; the poor need money and will sell even their children. But such thinking is fallacious and unethical. We cannot buy people. Slavery was condemned after the civil war and remains immoral. Offering money to the poor for a person's son demeans both the father and the son. There is an inherent dignity to life, based on the presence of God's image (Gen. 1:26), even if that life is lived in squalid conditions.

Rip's response to Jack is swift and violent, leaving Jack bloodied physically and Rip bloodied emotionally. Having held his temper through his prison years, the demon is out of the bottle. And to commiserate, he hits the bottle again. With alcohol back in his life, it is not long before domestic abuse reoccurs.

A second theme of the film is self-destruction. Rip's self-destructive tendencies take over his family, but the Campbells, too, choose a path that is destructive to their lifestyles. We all have deeply flawed personalities, due to the sin that is present in us from birth (Psa. 51:5). Under pressure, we can choose to follow the path of the Spirit or the path of the self. Too often the self's way is destructive, to ourselves or to others. We can become the worst versions of ourselves in such choices.

Yet, the film offers a sense of hope and redemption. Wendy chooses to stay with Rip, seeing in him the spark of goodness, the potential to be a father, even if that time is not yet. There is a love buried inside him, and she wants to help him.

The title of the film comes from a scene in the middle when Joey is on one of his arranged trips to the Porters house. Wendy picks up one of the dandelion weeds and tells him that blowing the spore of the dandelion dust is like setting a wish free. The wish is trapped until, like dandelion dust, it is released by the wind of a person's breath. But like life, wishes are not always black and white. One person's wish is another person's nightmare.

Wendy's wish is for her boy to be back with her and Rip in a loving family. Yet her wish realized may hurt Joey even as it benefits her. Our wishes are like this. Sometimes we want things that seem good for us, while forgetting or ignoring that they may impact others negatively. We overlook the bigger picture in our desire to realize our wishes. St. Chrysostom prayed, "Fulfil now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us" recognizing that God alone knows what is optimal for us. Our sight is too poor.

Like Dandelion Dust is carried on the shoulders of Miro Sorvino, the Oscar-winning actress. As the fragile yet brave woman whose choices define two families, she is the heart and soul of the film. And it is appropriate that she gets to demonstrate her love in a final act of sacrifice. If the two fathers have offered different views of the depravity of humanity, the two mothers provide a peek at the redemptive aspects of humanity. Redemption and hope become entwined in a bittersweet ending, that leaves tears in our eyes and perhaps a glimpse into the heart of self-giving love. Isn't that just like Jesus.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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